Hockey: Granite City tops Alexandria Blizzard in battle of two of the NA3HL West's best

Two late goals lifted Granite City over the Alexandria Blizzard on Saturday. Granite City and Alexandria are currently the top two teams in the NA3HL Western Division standings.

Alexandria's Jack Whitmore lines up for a faceoff during a game against Granite City on Jan. 28, 2023. Whitmore had two of Alexandria's three goals in its 5-3 loss.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA - The Alexandria Blizzard and the Granite City Lumberjacks are the two teams in the 2022-23 NA3HL Western Division regular season standings and met in another close game on Saturday.

Alexandria's Cole Klingbeil tied the game 3-3 10 seconds into the third frame, but with a short-handed goal by Zak Kennett and an insurance goal by Luke Delzer, Granite City earned a 5-3 win.

"They're good; they're one of the best teams in the league, there's no doubt about it," Alexandria assistant coach Jon Crouse said. "All of our games against them have been good; we've just got to tweak a few things."

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Granite City's Finnigan Greeley (red) collides with Alexandria's Cole Klingbeil (white) during the second period of Granite City's 5-3 win over Alexandria on Jan. 28, 2023.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

Granite City is 3-1 on the season against Alexandria, with the lone loss in the series coming on Nov. 19, 2022 (4-1).

"We can get outworked sometimes in our D zone, so we're working on that," Crouse said. "Sometimes it's these little mistakes that we make that pile-up. Sometimes we get stuck out there for so long on a shift, and then at that point, you're just dead tired, and then you start really making bad mistakes."


Alexandria had a 29-27 shot on goal advantage in the game.

Alexandria got the puck in the back of the net early in the first frame, and it was a newcomer to the team who scored the goals.

In his home debut for the Blizzard, Jack Whitmore scored twice in the first period of the game, including a goal eight minutes into the game to tie the game at 1.

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"This was my first time playing here, and it was good to score after giving up a quick one," Whitmore said. "It got some energy in the building."

After Granite City took a 2-1 lead, Whitmore knotted things up with a power play goal with 2:39 left in the first frame.

"He provided a spark for us," Crouse said.

Whitmore is a Parker, Colorado native but has family ties to Alexandria and says he's spent summers growing up here.

He joined the Blizzard for their road games against Minnesota Loons on Thursday and the New Ulm Steel on Friday.


Whitmore has played in five games this season for the St. Cloud Norsemen of the NAHL and has previously played for the New Mexico Ice Wolves (the NAHL level team) and the Colorado Thunderbird youth teams (T1EHL).

Before Thursday, Whitmore had been sidelined with concussions but is back and is ready to make an impact.

"Once he gets going, he's really going to start popping off," Crouse said.

Whitmore was excited to be back on the ice.

"It's been great to be back out there for the first time since, like, Sept. 16," he said. "Playing hockey is the best thing in the world to me."

Granite City took a 3-2 lead with a goal at the start of the second frame and held that lead until the third frame.

Karsten Senden, Ryan Hadland, Aidan Prochaska, Justin Wasvick and Joe Gronholz had assists in the win.

Alexandria's Joe Gronholz lines up a shot during the second period of the Blizzard's 5-3 loss to the Granite City Lumberjacks on Jan. 28, 2023.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

Gronholz just signed a tender to play at some point for the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL, while Sean Kenny, who has played in 23 games for the Blizzard this season, just made his NAHL debut for the Bismarck Bobcats and has one goal and one assist in two games played.


"He's very deserving and is a great point scorer for us," Crouse said. "He sees the ice so well; he plays a very calm and collected game. Sean is in his last year of junior hockey and finally got the chance to go to NAHL, and he can definitely play up there. He's a buzzsaw. I'm not sure where he'll end up going, and I think he'll come back for the rest of the season, but either way, he's a force to be reckoned with."

Kenny has 37 points (15 goals and 22 assists) this season, while Gronholz has 41 points (16 goals and 25 assists) in 27 games played.

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Sean Kenny

With Saturday's win, Granite City improved to 30-4-1 on the season (61 points), while Alexandria remains in second place in the division with a 23-9-2 record (48 points).

Granite City has already locked up one of the division's four Fraser Cup playoff berths, while Alexandria, the Mason City Toros (43 points - 21-14-1), New Ulm Steel (33 points - 14-20-5), Willmar WarHawks (32 points - 15-18-2), and the Minnesota Loons (22 points - 10-25-1) are still left to fight for the three other playoff berths.

"We want to make the season as long as we can," Whitmore said. "We've got a good group of guys that made it really easy for me to step in right away. It's not always easy being the new guy, these are good guys, and I want to go as far with them as I can."

Alexandria began the weekend with a 5-2 win over the Loons on the road on Thursday and a 3-2 overtime win over the Steel on Friday.

"The last two games we had were in Breezy Point against a tough Loons team, and we had another one against New Ulm on Friday," Crouse said. "Those are the two bottom teams in our division, but every single night we play them, it's a good game. It's not a blowout. So it doesn't matter whom you're playing, especially when you're towards the top of the standings; you're going to get everyone's best game because they're coming for you. So we just got to be ready to go and not take anyone lightly."

The Blizzard host the Loons at 7:10 p.m. on Wednesday.

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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